Six incumbents and three candidates for the Town of Golden council discussed the issues on people’s minds at the All Candidates Forum, hosted by the Kicking Horse Country Chamber of Commerce.
Candidate Keith Hern was absent, as he had to travel to Calgary to have a pacemaker put in.
Between questions written by the Chamber, and the many from the crowd at the Golden Senior’s Centre, several concerns were raised including disparities in tax rates, childcare, small business development, housing and services for seniors, and ways to both keep families in Golden, and attract newcomers.
The difference between the business and residential property tax rates is not a new issue for Golden, but it is a difficult one to address.
“To start with, we really need to go over the budget with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that we’re spending the money properly, and see first of all, if there’s a way of reducing the taxes,” said candidate John Jackson. He also stressed the point that easing the tax burden on businesses would help attract more to town.
“I know that this is a problem for everybody,” said incumbent Magnus Magnusson. “But I have a feeling, after my 12 years here on council, that we’re going to be told what to do by the provincial government… They will move in and they will change the system, and we will have a new tax system within the next three to five years. We won’t have any choice, we will be told this is how it’s going to be.”
Fellow incumbent Chris Hambruch agreed with Magnusson, and said that council is always searching for ways to bring the taxes down, but insists that the budget is about as low as it can be.
Candidate Ron Oszust suggested that expanding the town’s tax base to share the burden may be the best long term solution, and creating a business friendly environment will be the best way to do that.
Childcare is a growing problem in many areas, not just Golden, and the candidates were asked how they might support it and keep it on the agenda.
“Childcare is a difficult issue,” said incumbent Caleb Moss, explaining that it is complicated by the fact that it involves all three levels of government. As a former childcare worker himself, Moss suggested that the solution might be a community-based one, as opposed to something that comes from politicians.
“There are places and pieces that a municipality can put money into, or maybe lend support or staff time. There are things that can be added into a larger plan, but it is not something that can be put to a municipality to solve, it is one of those partnership questions.”
Incumbent Mike Pecora referred to a feasibility study that is currently being worked on regarding the issue of childcare.
“I would like to see that first, before we can really discuss things. I have a lot of ideas around it, but that is something that needs to come forward first… It can be worked at, but it needs to be worked at as a group, not just at the municipal level,” he said.
“Childcare wasn’t an issue that has been brought up with the council in the last three years,” said incumbent Kuljit Jaswal. “Clearly it’s a big issue. I think one of the things we can do is wait for the study to come out… and hopefully that study will have some recommendations for council, what they can do, and how they can help.”
Jaswal also suggested that keeping the doors of communication open with community groups such as the Early Childhood Development Coalition could make a big difference.
Incumbent Jamie Fitzgerald was asked what she feels the council has done in the past to encourage and support business, and what they can do in the future.
“I think the council as a whole, what we can and can’t do is limited as far as developing business. I think we’ve tried to do all that we can and look at any opportunities that are available to us,” she said. “We have worked with taxes… and I think we’ve done a good job of keeping them as low as we can… I think it’s a global issue, and we continue to do all that we can.”
Magnusson agreed with Fitzgerald, saying that this is a problem that is occurring everywhere, and the council is doing what it can. “We see the opportunities for a lot of small businesses to come into this community, but that often kills one of long standing, because of the competition. We just don’t have the population base to support two alike businesses,” he said.
The population is affected by seniors, and their ability to stay in the community. But the group’s diverse set of resources and needs make it a difficult issue to address.
“Seniors are a broad group of individuals who have varying levels of financial resources, some of whom require financial support, some who don’t need any,” said Hambruch. “For a lot of them, the services that they need are not available in the community. I think there’s a business opportunity here to provide services to those who have the resources to pay for them, but currently can’t get them locally.”
Oszust agreed that the need and the opportunity is present to keep senior citizens here.
“We have zero growth in that segment of our population (age 65+),” he said. “Why are these people leaving is the key question. We need to look at those reasons… We can guess, there’s healthcare, there’s the amenities, and services absolutely. But what are the specifics on those, and what can we do as a community to address those? We can gather that information and discover what it is we can work on.”
The Senior’s Centre was full for the forum, but the candidates were asked how they planned to encourage people to increase their civic involvement on a regular basis.
“I believe in a direct democracy,” said candidate Trevor Hamre. “We need to govern together, and we really do have to get more participation out of our public… One of the things I would love to do is include more dialogue with the gallery in town council so there is meaningful debate within the chambers.”
“This has been a very interesting area,” said Pecora. “Being as vocal and as social as I am, I’m always surprised how many people don’t really have a clue what is going on… We advertise pretty much every week in the newspaper, we have Facebook pages, we have the town’s website.”
The council uses every medium possible to get information out, says Pecora. But sometimes people just choose to not be engaged.
Everyone will have the chance to engage themselves in local politics at the polling stations on Nov, 19.